What to look for when hiring an attorney for your multi-million dollar property

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realty 411 logo“Picking a lawyer or closing agent for a multi-million dollar home or property is a lot like buying detergent,” says Guy Rabideau of Rabideau Law from his office located on ritzy Palm Beach, Florida. “A lot of buyers and sellers go with the same attorney or agents that their parents used. Plus, like detergent, or any similar product, the cost is pretty much the same no matter who is selected to assist.”

According to Trulia, the average listing price for Palm Beach homes for sale on was $2,149,229 for the week ending March 5, 2014. Yet, closing costs remain the same no matter who one uses and, no matter the cost of the residence.

“The only thing we or any other closing agent acquires is the premium – in essence a seller in Palm Beach County receives free legal counsel since we don’t charge above and beyond the premium,” says Attorney David. E. Klein of Rabideau Law. “It is the same rate as everyone else. The cost of the closing agent does not set the rates. It is the premium on the residence or building.”

“Wealthier buyers or sellers may have an advantage here only because of experience,” says Klein. “Buyers of multiple properties may, through experience, already know this. The fees are the same for using either a paralegal service or Blue Chip law firm. However, a law firm may be more equipped to assist buyers and sellers for unforeseen issues that might arise.”

According to Klein, most of the complicating issues don’t come up at the closing table. They are more likely to come up between signing a contract and closing.

A whole host of issues can arise up before the parties exchange the keys. Some common matters may include financial or informative errors that prevent closing on time; a failing termite inspection or extensive damage; the home isn’t insurable; the buyer gets cold feet or the seller backs out; the home inspection reveals major defects; there are clouds on the title such as a property lien, and more.

Perhaps the building or home is in a special residential district such as having ocean access. Then it may help a buyer to have an attorney experienced in maritime law.

“A relationship between a lawyer and client can go far beyond a one-time encounter,” says Klein. “A property transaction can serve as a good opportunity to ‘try out’ your attorney for a longer term estate planning relationship. If you feel your attorney gives you unique attention, expert counsel, and timely advice, this is the person or firm you want to have represent you for years to come. Not just a closing as a title agent.”

Why Location Matters

“To be honest, you don’t put a law office in the town of Palm Beach if you aren’t a highly successful, highly knowledgeable real estate lawyer,” says realtor Jerry Cahalane of SellInSouthFlorida.com. “If you don’t have the success or contacts behind you, it would take a lot of gall to put in a law office there. Truth is, I send someone to Rabideau Law because the record and history speaks for itself.”

Long time Palm Beach Broker Associate Jim McCann of the Concoran Group agrees. “I always refer and rely on local, competent professionals. We have a lot of people look at Palm Beach as a second, third, or fourth home coming from out of the state or country. There may be significant differences in tax laws that affect their decision. Local attorneys can explain the pros and cons of moving a main residence for homestead protection. Buyers moving primary residence may benefit in that Florida does not have state income tax. An attorney can run through the options and can speak to real estate taxes and asset protection.”

“I use Palm Beach real estate attorneys at Rabideau Law because they have local knowledge and understand the nuances to zoning codes, renovations, or add on. Also, many of our important homes have historic or landmark preservation aspect that needs to be researched in advance,” says McCann.

McMann also cites federally mandated minimum flood elevation and, most of Palm Beach has further requirements to address that. “To hire an attorney outside of Palm Beach,” says McMann, “they would have to research that stuff. That is true of any town whether in L.A., New York or Texas.”

Why Nice Matters

One thing most all agree on, “nice matters,” a lot.

“Ours is not an adversarial. relationship,” says Klein of Rabideau Law. “Being the nicest and smartest person in the room helps to make us the best attorneys. In real estate transactions, you’ll rarely hear us raise our voice to anyone. It provides no benefit and doesn’t serve us or the clients. We’re here to be as helpful and pleasant as possible. Okay, we may be stern sometimes, if an issue goes on and on.”

That level of “nice,” also extends to a company’s web site. “Corcoran.com is a very user-friendly web site,” says McMann. “About 85% initiate their search for realtors on the internet. These are relationships with a lot of trust involved.”

The Rabideau Law site is also easy to navigate. It’s not full of lengthy text or a jumble of options. “Buyers and sellers are busy people. They have a myriad of issues to consider and wealthy clients include CEOs, CFOs, business owners, et cetera,” says Klein. “We keep the information brief and provide one-on-one consultations. Each relationship is unique.”

“We’re willing to bend over backwards to get things done,” add Klein. “Countless number of times we meet on weekends, evenings, go to people homes or even a hospital in event the elderly can’t get out. You’ll see us running around town making sure things get handled and get handled immediately. We deter any delay or potential problems. That service we provide sets us apart and gives us a good reputation. Work hard and we are very friendly about that.”

“We are asked frequently for recommendation of attorneys,” says McMann. “If someone is coming out of state or the country, they may have law firm. But not a Florida firm. The last thing I want to do is refer someone and have it be unpleasant. Rabideau delivers that quality every time. I would do the same thing for someone buying in California, Arizona, or New York. If asked for a referral, I use my contacts to research the best real estate attorneys for those high end zip codes.”

Special Situations

Last year, Rabideau Law handled over 50 closings for multi-million dollar properties. On average over 250 plus total closings each year. According to Klein, no one ever asks them how many multi-million dollar properties they closed in the past year. Rabideau Law is highly discreet about sharing numbers. However realtors like Jerry Cahalane are impressed.

“There is a big difference between the financial aspect a property over a million dollars,” says Cahalane “A lot more involved in the needs of the buyer. A lot more that can go wrong. Not with the house itself but different aspects of closing. A tremendous amount of houses that close are put into trust. A lot of pricey houses are bought under corporations. For example, if someone is buying a 5 million dollar property under a corporation, it may be for privacy sake.”

“Even the wealthiest buyers might say to me, ‘my mother’s boss is a realtor so I use him.’ Or, ‘my mother’s friend uses a family attorney, so I use them.’ How is that person exactly qualified? Word of mouth advertising is good to an extent. But when talking hundreds of millions dollars of real estate, you shouldn’t go with someone just because your friend said so.”

Cahalane advises caution even when it is someone you know personally. “Someone may be known to you, but in this transaction, it doesn’t mean you know him or her professionally. If you use the wrong lawyer and it is a million dollar plus property and they make an error, that is colossal.”

10 TOP SUGGESTIONS FOR WHEN YOU SHOP YOUR REAL ESTATE ATTORNEY

  1. Location, location, location of your attorney, not just your property.
    “We have intimate knowledge of Palm Beach,” says Klein. “We deal with the town all the time. We are familiar with certain issues that come up repeatedly. We know all the high end realtors and deal with them over and our dealings go smoother. That familiarity is hugely important over someone not working in that market in a day-to-day basis.”
  2. Are they nice? Manners count.
    Things like returning calls and email quickly. Keeping it low stress.
  3. Recommended? If so, by who? And ask why.
    What do they know about the attorney or closing agent? If they say, “they’re a family friend,” consider if that makes for the best choice. Would you buy a detergent just because your friend tells you to?
  4. Is the web site easy to navigate?
  5. How important are degrees?
    Not as much as you might think. It’s who they know sometimes more than what they know.
  6. Do they know the condo commando and rules?
    Buying a condo or in a gated community can be a maze of by-laws and community regulations. “Palm Beach has an impressive array of pricey condos,” says Klein. “We make an effort to know who we need to contact with the various associations. We regularly touch base with managers, obtain condo documents or sign affidavits to clear up title. These relationships are built over 15 to 20 years. We value and nurture professional friendships. A better working relationships with realtors, town officials, and condo associations helps to clean up any issues that delay closings.”
  7. Multiple homes in multiple locations?
    Definitely look for someone with that additional expertise.
  8. Must you meet face-to-face?
    If you live in Canada and plan to buy in Texas, no need to pay the attorney’s air fare, room, and board. Due diligence matters whether you meet face-to-face or virtually. Try a few test emails or calls and see if you get a fast response. No one wants a disappearing attorney the day before the closing whether in person or on speed dial.
  9. Is the area in a special needs location?
    For example, Florida is more likely to have attorneys who know about Maritime Law than someone in Iowa.
  10. Don’t base your decision on fees.
    Everyone gets paid the same no matter who you use – blue chip, tony Palm Beach address or an office under an overpass. You decide.

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